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Overview — Setting up an account in Denmark can be a hassle. Here is a primer that will help you make the right banking choices.
This article was first published 25 April 2018. It has been updated 28 June 2019.
Opening an account in Denmark can feel like being in a labyrinth. If you are not a Dane, you need a residence permit and a CPR number, and then there is the Nemkonto account system.
And then there is the choice of which bank to use in the first place.
But as a newcomer to Danish banks, starting the process early can avoid massive international transaction fees.
Charging transaction fees is a lucrative earner for financial institutions. However, for students based in Denmark, setting up an account can slash the cost of accessing cash from a machine or paying with a foreign bank card.
Kate Rayden, an exchange student from the University of Leeds (UK), was paying extra fees every time she made a purchase or withdrew from her British account.
If you want to avoid paying extortionate fees you need to get going as soon as you arrive in Denmark
Kate Rayden, exchange student
»Throughout my whole time on exchange I’ve been charged DKK 3850 in bank fees. That’s equivalent to one month’s Erasmus grant! It doesn’t even include the DKK 1535 I was charged when paying for accommodation. I really regret not getting it sorted sooner,« Kate says.
»I think my bank was particularly bad, but if you want to avoid paying extortionate fees you need to get going as soon as you arrive in Denmark.«
So with this in mind, here are a few tips on how to move your money over to the Danish banking system.
Getting a personal identification number is a must for sorting out anything admin-related in Denmark. The CPR number crops up in a number of unlikely situations – whether it’s borrowing a library book or topping up a mobile – and of course, it’s crucial for getting a bank account.
To get a CPR number you first need a residence permit. To accommodate the large numbers of incoming EU and EEA students, the University of Copenhagen has previously hosted government officials at the start of each semester. Upcoming registration days are posted on the University of Copenhagen’s website. With the correct documentation, you can walk away with a Residence Permit and CPR number in a fraction of the normal time.
For non-EU or EEA citizens, getting things are a little trickier. Due to the long application process, the University of Copenhagen advises students to »start the application process immediately upon receipt of the letter of admission«. The Danish government also want fingerprints, proof of financial support and a processing fee.
Another thing to consider before hitting the high street is Denmark’s NemKonto or ‘Easy Account’. Every citizen and company must assign one bank account into which all payments from the public sector are made.
We’ll order the NemID for you if you need to do online home banking
Ulla Pederson, Arbejdernes Landsbank
You can designate your NemKonto when opening your new account with your bank advisor.
With the NemKonto comes the NemID – your key to digital Denmark. The number card arrives in the post a few days after set-up and can be used as a digital signature for accessing public websites and online banking. Whilst the terminology might be unfamiliar, the NemID and NemKonto are easy to get to grips with and simplify much of the online-banking paperwork.
So then it comes down to the choice of banks. Here is a selection of the most well-known ones in Denmark.
Arbejdernes Landsbank is amongst the nation’s seven largest banks with over 70 branches across the country. According to Ulla Pederson at the Sluseholmen branch (Sydhavn), there are no fees involved in setting up an account and all information is available online in English. The time to set up an account varies – it could be one week or two but it really depends on how busy they are.
»For students I’d recommend a normal salary account. We’ll need ID – the yellow card (health insurance card) and passport. We usually need a tax report from Skat (tax authority) if you require additional services. We’ll order the NemID for you if you need to do online home banking,« she says.
Nordea is the largest financial services group in Northern Europe and operates numerous branches in Copenhagen and across Denmark.
The bank was too busy to speak to the University Post about its services in all of the three branches that we visited, so Nordea is evidently a popular choice for customers in the capital.
The bank does not offer private online banking in English but does provide services in Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish, and can charge small fees to its basic account, up to DKK 340 per year.
Similar to Arbejdernes Landsbank in offering a free salary account with card, Nykredit offers speedy set-up with recent upgrades to its service.
»We actually just changed our system so you can get onboard digitally on your smartphone or iPad. It only takes ten minutes although the card has to be ordered and takes about 5 days. You’ll need picture ID – but you can take a photo of that with your smartphone,« says Lene Corklunge, employee at the Amager office.
»Some parts of our website are in English but not all – we’re working on it! We are more than happy to have international customers and of course in Copenhagen we’re especially eager to have as much in English on the site as possible,« she says.
Established in 1871, Denmark’s largest bank owns a host of branches around the centre of Copenhagen and provides 24 hour contact services.
The institution offers full services in English online.
A student-friendly option is the Danske Studie package. If you are 18-32 years old and getting SU (the Danish study grant), most of the basic banking services will be available for free. That includes withdrawing cash from other banks’ ATMs and exchanging foreign currency.
Headquartered in Silkeborg, Jutland, Jyske bank is smaller than Danske Bank – operating with the third largest market share in Denmark.
According to Bente Juul-Pedersen, department director at the office on Amagerbrogade, the bank charges various fees with different accounts but does have an English homepage.
»To set up an account you’ll need your yellow card, some documentation to show where you live and something about your economic history, such as an old bank statement,« says Bente Juul-Pedersen.
As its name suggests, Sydbank focuses its operations in southern Jutland, however the company does have a number of branches in Copenhagen.
Customer assistant Ibrahim Zulfovski points out that:
»Whilst the bank requires an »annual tax statement, valid ID and three recent payslips, we do offer a number of special rewards for students.«
So that was the banks. Make your choice.
Back to Kate. She has now set up an account with Nordea – a move which has significantly reduced her monthly expenditure. While she believes she has paid more than other students, her experience is not isolated.
Like Kate, many students studying in Denmark for a few months are put off by the time required to set up an account and the hassle of foreign paperwork.
»It’s a common problem because of the lengthy process – CPR number, NemID and then a week before you can use the account,« Kate says, »so it probably takes over a month before everything is set up and ready to go.«
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